CATERING TO CULTURES
by Alisha Green
Though the term soul food was not applied to the Southern African-American style of cooking until the 1960s, the food carries a long history and a deep tradition with a meaning that goes beyond just food for many people.
The tradition of soul food begins in the slave trade. Africans brought their knowledge of ingredients and food preparation and applied it to make the most of the small quantities of food and scraps they were often given. They used familiar ingredients from Africa such as okra, sorghum, and rice to supplement the meager amounts they were given by enslavers. They made the most of even the poorer cuts of meat and the vegetables that were available, adding seasonings of onions, peppers, garlic, thyme, and rosemary.
Many soul food recipes have been handed down verbally and use approximations - a result of relying on making things "to taste" when measuring cups and spoons weren't available. This makes the cuisine more customizable for a wide variety of tastes and is the reason there are many variations on the soul food staples such as collard greens, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, and cornbread.
Complete soul food meals often use a combination of dishes to balance out flavors that range from spicy to sweet, crunchy to creamy, and hot to cool. The old-style of cooking relies on some heavier ingredients like lard and other high fat, high energy sources. Today this has been balanced in many recipes with alternatives such as canola oil and different cooking styles, including pressure cooking instead of frying.
Check back soon for more information, inlcuding:
Growing Major Ingredients: Here you can find information about the major vegetables used in soul food and their best growing conditions.
Marketing Ingredients: You know how to grow the food, but is it worth growing for a profit in your area? Do you know the best places to sell soul food ingredients? Here you can find tips for determining where you could successfully sell certain ingredients.
Alternative Cooking Styles
At Quinney's Southern Soul Food Restaurant in Lansing, Michigan, Mack and Vickie prepare their food with a healthy twist. By pressure cooking food instead of frying it, using canola oil, and not using any salt, they make healthier versions of the soul food staples.
Alisha Green is an Honors College student at Michigan State University's School of Journalism. She has spent the past 18 months researching various national and international food cultures, with the goal of helping sustainable farmers understand these important niche markets.